Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Streetville forever

One frequent criticism against the welfare state is that it pacifies and befuddles its subjects. The solution, in contemporary political discourse, is often seen as empowerment and strategies that allow underprivileged groups to govern themselves.

In today’s research seminar, Katharine Tyler from the University of Surrey, presented her paper Streetville forever: Ethnicity, Collective Action and the State. In the paper she criticizes this approach, arguing that the advanced liberal state uses it as a tool to turn social-economic improvement into self-improvement. Instead of addressing the root causes of poverty, different experts and specialists are parachuted into neighbourhoods in order to “empower” the people living there.

Drawing on her extensive fieldwork in a British city, Tyler discusses how these policies risk overlooking existing forums in their eagerness to create new ones which better conform to the "handbook". And more importantly, how it risks turning activism into discipline by channelling it into these more harmless forums.

Spontaneously I tend to agree with Tyler’s analysis. Though we always have to be aware of the spectre of paternalism it is clear that the liberal state can do a lot more to fight poverty than today. It cannot simple be that we have to accept the current levels of global and domestic poverty as "natural". We are still far from a Rawlsian situation in which any remaining inequalities are to "the benefits of the least advantaged".



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